Arizona Baseball: Taking a Bat to Racial Profiling

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in ,, at 5/01/2010 12:26:00 AM
I'm countin' down to the day deservin'
Fittin' for a King
I'm waitin' for the time when I can get to Arizona
Cause my money's spent on the goddamn rent
Neither party is mine
Not the jackass or the elephant

Unbeknownst to many, I studied for an MBA at Thunderbird in Glendale, Arizona. It was there where I first encountered International Political Economy and eventually set into motion the chain of events that's seen yours truly become an IPE blogger. Thunderbird is renowned among American B-schools for being tops in the speciality of international business for the longest time. Due to its concentration of IPE and area studies amongst more traditional business courses, I believe that I received a really good education which I still appreciate to this day.

So, it's with no passing familiarity that I believe I'm entitled to speak about goings-on in the Valley of the Sun. There has been much hullabaloo as of late Stateside about Arizona's implementation of the inflammatory SB 1070 (text here) aimed at cracking down on illegal immigration (text here). Among its most contentious provisions is the ability to stop those suspected of being illegal immigrants and force them to produce documents showing they are legally entitled to be in the state. This provision has led to concerns that persons of colour may be subject to racial profiling. Even those who are legally in the state can be inconvenienced by simply forgetting to carry now-required documents all the time.

I am naturally of the opinion that these measures are far too draconian. While in Arizona, I must say that I didn't feel inconvenienced at all despite obviously being a non-Caucasian. This, of course, may change entirely if and when SB 1070 is implemented. Historically, Arizona has had the knack of getting itself into trouble on matters concerning race relations. For instance, the lyrics above are from a Public Enemy number above which dates to 1991. Early Public Enemy wasn't long on subtlety--comparing black liberation to a violent jailbreak, for instance. Here, Chuck D's theme is, er, taking out the governor if he didn't make MLK Day a holiday. As with so many things dealing with Arizona, the story of celebrating Martin Luther King Day involves Senator John McCain (R-AZ):
The holiday went into effect in 1986. Only 27 states and D.C. honored the holiday that first year. Activists in state after state tried to prevent it from being recognized. In Arizona, a bill to recognize a holiday honoring MLK failed in the legislature, so then-Gov. Bruce Babbitt, a Democrat, declared one through executive order.

In January 1987, the first act of Arizona's new governor, Republican Evan Mecham, was to rescind the executive order by his predecessor to create an MLK holiday. Arizona's stance became a national controversy. McCain backed the decision at the time. But eventually he changed his mind.

In 1990, Arizonans were given an opportunity to vote to observe an MLK holiday. McCain successfully appealed to former President Ronald Reagan to support the holiday. In a letter to voters, Reagan wrote that he hoped Arizonans would "join me in supporting a holiday to commemorate these ideals to which Dr. King dedicated his life."

Mecham, for his part, opposed the holiday, saying, "I guess King did a lot for the colored people, but I don't think he deserves a national holiday." The 1990 referendum failed. And as a direct result, the National Football League rescinded its original decision to have Super Bowl XXVII played in Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, Arizona.
Partly from pressure from the NFL, Arizona eventually made MLK Day a holiday via referendum in 1992. Still, it lost a lot of convention business and the 1993 Super Bowl for the delay. Now, however, there are ructions involving that other major American sport, baseball. It will be of no surprise to readers that I am a fan of the Arizona Diamondbacks because of the Arizona connection. It was during my time there that the great pitcher Randy Johnson came to the desert and spent the salad days of his Hall of Fame career. This may seem odd to my American readers but I know what a ground rule double and a 4-6-3 double play are. Just as hosting the Super Bowl XXVII was jeopardized by Arizona removing remembrance of MLK day, SB 1070 is threatening to endanger a sport even closer to the economic interests of the state.

To make a long story short, Arizona is one of the world's epicentres for baseball. Not only is a lot of Major League Baseball's spring training (or preseason) held there, but several minor leagues that feed into clubs at the major league level operate in the state, too. And, just as Super Bowl XXVII was successfully withdrawn from Arizona over pressure from the NFL with so many African-American players, the same dynamic may be in place here as players of Latin descent are obviously plentiful in Major League Baseball. What is more, Chase Field (formerly Bank One Ballpark before Bank One was acquired by Chase) is scheduled to host the 2011 All-Star Game. That too is coming under sustained pressure.

Once again demonstrating that you don't need to venture far to find material relevant to political economy, Yahoo's Jeff Passan had a good op-ed describing the potential economic costs to Arizona if SB 1070 is implemented:
Baseball’s entanglement in Arizona’s new immigration measure, Senate Bill 1070, goes well beyond the small swath of protestors demanding Major League Baseball pull the 2011 All-Star Game out of Phoenix and boycott Arizona Diamondbacks games. More than 1,000 players, and hundreds more executives, coaches, trainers and business staff, spend about eight weeks of spring training in the Phoenix area. Latin Americans represent 25-plus percent of major league players, and the percentage in the minor leagues is even higher. The sweeping reform, which critics say invites racial profiling, is almost certain to hit baseball if the federal government doesn’t intervene...

“There’s no distinguishing characteristic between an undocumented alien and someone who’s here legally,” said Glen Wasserstein, a partner with the Immigration Law Group in Washington. “How do you possibly have reasonable suspicion? Everybody of Hispanic orientation will be scrutinized. Why would you bring your passport and visa with you?”...

The 12 teams participating in the Arizona Rookie League each have at least six players from Spanish-speaking countries on their rosters. Latin Americans comprise more than 40 percent of the 317 players currently assigned to the league. Of the 28 players on the Oakland Athletics’ AZL team, 20 are from foreign countries, including 11 of 13 pitchers, eight of whom are Dominican and three of whom are Venezuelan.

The proliferation of Latinos in the game is why SB 1070 so frightens MLB and the MLB Players Association. While neither organization would comment, both are investigating how the law will affect players old and young, rich and poor, and how the sport can reconcile infusing hundreds of millions of dollars into the economy through spring training and the All-Star Game when more than a quarter of its constituents can be legally profiled...
And then there is specific trouble for the current owners of the Diamondbacks, in particular Republican supporter Ken Kendrick (known to us fans as Ken-Ken). There is talk of boycotting games when the D-Backs are on the road:
One source said MLB is unlikely to change the All-Star Game only 14 months before it is scheduled, though officials have discussed the potential ramifications. The scrutiny is even greater on the Diamondbacks. Ken Kendrick, the team’s managing partner, is a significant donor to the Republican Party, which SB 1070 opponents say railroaded the measure into law. The Diamondbacks released a statement that said Kendrick opposes the bill. Still, 40 protestors stood outside the Diamondbacks’ game in Chicago on Thursday, and more are expected at future games.

“It’s a real issue, and we wear Arizona on our chest, so we do represent the state,” Diamondbacks general manager Josh Byrnes said. “We’re insulated to some degree, but things that affect society at large affect us. We take a lot of pride in our representation from the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Rodrigo Lopez from Mexico, Augie Ojeda(notes) growing up in California of Mexican descent. That’s what’s great about baseball. Every team has such great diversity.”

For now, at least. If [Us Attorney-General Eric] Holder doesn’t join the others filing suit against SB 1070 and it goes into effect, Latin American players almost certainly will avoid the Diamondbacks. Whether that aversion stretches to the other 14 teams with spring training in the Phoenix area is another question altogether.
The Arizona Republic has a lot more on how other local businesses may be hurt. For a state so reliant on tourism (think of the Grand Canyon, Flagstaff, and Sedona), the prospect of harassing anyone for not being white has the potential to put off many visitors. Add in boycotts of conventions and the state has not only a major image but also an economic problem. This time, the pink underwear sheriff Joe Arpaio has gone too far. McCain is on the spot too for supporting this measure as he keeps changing his mind on immigration matters. For someone who's supported amnesty in the past, it's a somewhat sudden about-face he's made in supporting SB 1070.

Illegal immigration as well as narcotic and human trafficking are serious problems that require more thoughtful measures than SB 1070. Based on my experience, Arizonans are not racist. It's just that their independent streak sometimes results in overreactions like this one. Now, like then, however, I ultimately believe that economic pressure will overturn this highly discriminatory measure. Otherwise, there will be hell to pay.

I don't like it at all.

UPDATE 1: Check out the normally conservative Arizona Republic (with a title like that...) unloading on the state's politicians for creating this mess. Then again, it name checks politicians from both parties.

upDATE 2: The same paper notes that violence isn't up on the AZ side of the border, contrary to media- and politician-fanned perceptions.